Home  >  Posts  >

Creating a Culture of Effective Design Feedback

Feedback is the wild card in your team's design cycles.

Article • Aug 2017 • 8 min read

Crouching Feedback, Hidden Disaster

Feedback is the wild card in your team’s design cycles. Get it wrong and projects are at risk of being delayed, producing ineffective outcomes, or even worse — blowing up or shutting down. On the other hand, effective design feedback can save the day and bond the team together.

Creating a safe environment for the exchange of effective feedback and teaching everyone how to give it is one of a design team’s most important tasks. Since the rest of the company probably didn’t learn how to critique work in design school, helping everyone learn this skill is critical. It can end up paying big dividends to the company over the long haul.

So what exactly is effective feedback? I’m glad you asked.

“Effective feedback is not praise or criticism. It is carefully chosen language and actions that propel the learner forward.” — Regie Routman

We think effective feedback should:

Critiquing Our Lack Of Critique

How meta! Over two years ago, we wanted to take a closer look at how we were exchanging feedback at Creative Market because frankly, it wasn’t going well. After each project was done, it was easy to see where things went off track. Our lack of good critique process created serious issues at all stages of the work in both written and verbal forms. Here are a few examples of what was happening:

Every week, we saw the negative impacts that our lack of critique was creating in the work and team relationships. It was clear that a simple process could solve most of our issues in one fell swoop, and that process needed to feel like us and be fairly organic to how the team already operated.

We came up with these three areas of focus to improve our feedback challenges:

Next, we created a set of simple qualities that would help the team understand what makes for effective feedback and how to give it during a critique.

Validating Our Hypothesis

After we identified our issues and built a process for improving our critiques, we decided to put it to the test. We planned a mock critique in order to validate that improving how the team exchanged feedback could make design work more effective and efficient.

Our lead product designer Noah Stokes created 3 comps of a reimagined version of our homepage. We scheduled the mock critique as a workshop during a team trip in 2015 so that the whole team would experience and participate. Noah’s work was a bit on the progressive side, because we wanted it to stir up controversy and stimulate lots of feedback. It did the trick. The team immediately experienced the value of our new critique process and ended up loving it. In the weeks that followed, the team embraced and adopted our critique process with open arms. It was all down hill from there.

So Fresh & So Clean

So, without further ado, here is a high-level overview of our new critique process. If you want to dive deeper, I’ll be posting a second article in this series soon that lays out a playbook that your team can adopt based on our groundwork and insights.

1. Running a Critique

a) Prepare the Way

b) Kick It Off

c) Shhh: It’s Quiet Time

d) Give Affirmative via Round-Robin Approach

e) Give Constructive via Round-Robin Approach

f) Presenter Takes the Stand Mic

g) Discuss Flagged Topics

h) End with Next Steps

2. Validating Feedback

a) Closing the Round

b) Collecting Feedback

c) Validating Feedback

d) Resolving Conflicts

e) Prioritizing Feedback

Last but not least, here’s a quick summary of the different types of feedback:

Wrapping Up

So, there you have it! That’s the flow for our new critique and feedback processes. We rinse and repeat these steps for each design cycle in our brand and product work. We scale up to the full critique process for larger projects with complexities and run multiple reviews during those projects. We minimize the process for smaller tasks and might run a “mini-crit” as a design team.

Since rolling out this new process, the team has built more trust and common ground through critiquing the work. The more we practice the critique process, the more it becomes second nature. The critiques start to move faster and more fluid, while still retaining their effectiveness.

We’ve also seen that as the team iterates and collaborates with greater transparency, the less they have to follow the full version of our critique process. Everyone’s up to speed and aligned at all stages of the project, so critiques end up being most useful during project discovery, scoping, and the first review of complex deliverables.

I hope that these insights are useful to you and your team.